SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (AP/WCCO) — An explosion rocked a Wisconsin community after a contractor struck a natural gas main in a downtown area filled with bars and other businesses, killing one firefighter and injuring several other people, authorities said.
Firefighters and police officers responded to a reported gas leak, and an evacuation was underway when the blast happened Tuesday, said Sun Prairie police Lt. Kevin Konopacki. He added that lives were likely saved as a result of the evacuation.
Konopacki said buildings would be searched in the Madison, Wisconsin, suburb of about 30,000 once the flames were out. Firefighters were still battling flames more than three hours after the explosion.
The powerful blast around 7:15 p.m. sent a plume of smoke and flames into the air.
According to WISC-TV, one firefighter was killed and six other firefighters were taken to the hopsital — four with minor injuries and another who is in stable condition. A police officer and seven civilians were also taken to the hospital, treated and released.
WE Energies spokeswoman Amy Jahns said workers for a contractor apparently punctured a 4-inch natural gas main, sending gas leaking into a building ahead of the explosion. All 12 gas lines in the area were shut off by about 9:30 p.m.
The blast about half a block from City Hall appeared to be centered on the Barr House, a pub. Authorities evacuated a half-mile radius and set up a shelter at Sun Prairie High School.
Steve Owen, 60, who owns Sun City Cyclery and Skates in downtown Sun Prairie, said he saw firefighters and police officers on the street and then the explosion happened. He said the building across from his shop “literally lifted up.”
He said the force of the blast knocked him back in his chair and that he ran outside and saw a ball of fire.
“People were scrambling,” said Owen, who lives above his shop.
Jill Thompson, 56, who lives about two blocks from where the blast occurred, said, “It shook the whole building. I thought someone had hit the building with their vehicle. We seen the smoke immediately.”
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)